Post Mortem

The Patriots were unceremoniously removed from the playoff “tournament” tonight. In retrospect, it’s clear that the bye week did them no favors. They were slow, lethargic, out of sync, emotionally flat and pretty much all around soft. The situation was made worse by the fact that they also outsmarted themselves a few times, and each time it lead to being in a deeper hole. Oh well, that’s how football goes. Anyway, my purpose here is not to tediously break down everything the Pats did wrong. Read On →

10 Things to Eat In Pittsburgh Before You are Dead

The idea for this list came to me while I was at the “offal night” at Legume. I also figured it would make a good piece for the annual exercise in end of year top ten lists. Well, so much for that. My personal critieria for the items on this list was a combination of “unique to Pittsburgh”, “personal favorite”, and simply “really good food” in about equal parts. I did also try to avoid things everyone already knows about, hence the lack of an entry for Primanti’s. Read On →

Ancient Wars Game Giveaway

For those of you who prefer velites and hastati to cannons and riflemen, Paul Bruffel, developer of HPS’s Ancient Wars series of sims, is giving away copies of Punic Wars or Gallic Wars to entrants who can answer a question about ancient warfare correctly. Knowledge of their games is helpful, but not required.

The Worst Cook on the Entire Internet

The other day Mark Bittman published a short piece where he mused about three recipes that he could give you to “turn you into a cook.” I thought the piece was pretty good, and agree with its basic premise. He presents three dishes that appropriately varied could be used by anyone of reasonable ability to cook enough different kinds of food to live on. In fact, it was similar in nature to my on and off series of “dinner in half an hour” articles, although I would not be so bold as to think that I thought up this idea. Read On →

A Battle Lost Through Attrition

Hardcore operational-level computer war games have a serious problem: most of them are unplayable. Not all war games, obviously. And “unplayable” means different things to different people. A game that crashes whenever you start it up, for example, is literally unplayable. I mean something softer, here: I mean that many games which should be brilliant, which should capture the hearts and minds of every war gamer on the planet are instead consigned to a dusty corner of the market by unacceptably primitive user interfaces, obtuse mechanics, and poor communication of results. Read On →

Close Combat - The Matrix Versions

And, as the cloak of winter settles comfortably around our shoulders, my thoughts turn to the failed Nazi invasion of Russia, kicked off with Operation Barbarossa. My thoughts turn this way because I have, of late, been playing (and re- playing) some of the Matrix Games re-implementations of the classic tactical squad-level World War II games in the Close Combat series. Specifically, I’ve been playing Close Combat: Cross of Iron and Close Combat: The Longest Day. Read On →

The Defense of Duffer's Drift

The Defence of Duffer’s Drift by E. D. Swinton My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Defense of Duffer’s Drift is a fascinating little book that anyone can read in a short afternoon. Written by Capt. Ernest Dunlop Swinton around the dawn of the 20th century, it is a meditation on small unit tactics, based on experience gained in the Boer War. The most fascinating thing about the book is its insouciant tone. Read On →

The Ultimate Goto

When I was in college I was something of a programming languages hobbyist. I think all young dorks go through this phase. Programming languages are fascinating repositories of different ideas for creating abstractions for constructs that programmers find themselves building over and over again. Back in the day, one of my favorite papers was the Guy Steele title whose short form is just LAMBDA: The Ultimate GOTO. The title is fantastic because it brings together several disparate trains of thought on how programming languages work and combines them into a single statement. Read On →

Four Fish

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg My rating: 2 of 5 stars Paul Greenberg charts the exploitation and decline of four fish - wild salmon, European sea bass, cod, and bluefin tuna - in this thoroughly depressing work. Much of the book is spent channelling representatives from various commercial fishing operations, or alternatively from environmental groups. Some attention is paid to the question “so, if we shouldn’t eat these fish, what should we eat?“. Read On →

Snapped

Dear Internet Forums: While I love you for the wonderful capacity you have for the intelligent and thoughtful exchange of useful information with others from around the world, I am wondering if you could do me one little favor. I’m wondering if y’all could simply keep track of which god-damned messages in a thread I have actually read rather than just the threads I’ve looked at since the last time you stamped a cookie on me? Read On →

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

We’ve just finished our first playthrough of a complete round of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, playing through the Roliça (first position) scenario. I think it’s a good time to discuss my early impressions of the game. Needless to say, some of these are preliminary in nature, and it may turn out in the fullness of time I’ll change my mind. But first impressions matter, and they matter a lot, so I want to jot these notes down while my thoughts are still fresh. Read On →

Same as it Ever Was

I have always really liked the Best American Essays series. For those of you who are not familiar with these books, every year they rope some editor into reading thousands of pieces of non-fiction from vairous periodicals that specialize in publishing such material. Then they put 20 or 25 of these pieces into a single book and put it out on the shelves so I can buy one and read it on my next long plane trip. Read On →

Crossing the Chasm

Thomas at Mile Zero recently wrote a piece called The Console Model is a Regressive Tax on Creativity. I think Thomas is wrong. Here’s my reply. Thomas, Your attempt at a conceptual leap from “There exist platforms that limit the amount of hacking that can be done” to “Those limitations are a barrier to entry for minorities” rivals Evel Knievel’s storied jump over the Snake River Canyon, and ultimately it is no more successful. Read On →

Kickstarting Andrew Plotkin

Every so often someone undertakes a project so crazy and beautiful that anything you can say will just be superfluous. That’s how I feel about Andrew Plotkin’s quest to fund the development of his new text adventure for the iPhone. Andrew, known in other circles as “Zarf”, is more than just a brilliant writer and software developer; he’s also my friend. I urge you to visit his kickstarter page here and watch the intro video. Read On →

Lords of the Sea.

Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John R. Hale My rating: 5 of 5 stars John Hale’s “Lords of the Sea” is an in-depth history of the Athenian thalassocracy from before the Peloponnesian Wars, up until Cleitus, one of the Macedonian successors to Alexander the Great, forced Athens to accept the yoke. It is a fascinating read. Hale brings a very specific perspective to this topic: as a crew rower, he is perhaps more interested in the naval side of Athens than of any other aspect. Read On →

Why I Love to Watch Sports

A while back, my friend Kim asked if I could write a “Why I love X” article for a sports-related weblog for which she writes the occasional piece. At first this did not seem like a difficult task. After all, I have more than my share of sports-related obsessions. The Tour de France, the 1980s Celtics, the Tom Brady Patriots or the tortured teams of the Boston Red Sox. The list goes on and on. Read On →

I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett I Shall Wear Midnight is Terry Pratchett’s final book in the Tiffany Aching series. While clever, thoughtful, and well-constructed, it suffers from the same problem Pratchett has had in his other recent books: he has fallen too much in love with his characters to truly hurt them. Compared to the latent menace that suffused, for example, The Wee Free Men, we never feel here that Tiffany is at any risk that she can’t overcome through prodigious application of witch-bourne moxie. Read On →

An Open Letter to the People Who Buy Games

OK. Rant time. I have been down on video games lately. Part of the reason for this is that I’ve been busy reacquainting myself with hobbies from my past and my brain is only big enough to hold one obsession at once. Another part of the reason for this is that at least to my mind, there simply has not been anything that interesting released in the last, say, 18 months. Read On →

Hannibal: Rome and Carthage

Oh, look, a beautiful and challenging strategy game. Hannibal: Rome and Carthage is a gorgeous computer board game. Based, seemingly, on the board game Hannibal: Rome and Carthage in the Second Punic War, 219-202 B.C., Hannibal is a unique little gem of a wargame. For those who, like me, are merely amateur students of Roman history, the real Hannibal is something of a mystery. Clearly a general of legendary talents – his brilliant army-destroying trap at the Battle of Cannae alone would be enough to catapult him into the company of Alexander of Makedon, even before you think about what kind of balls it takes to march elephants over the Alps – the question in my mind has always been “Why didn’t he march on Rome? Read On →

A Telescope in the City

I never expected to get back into telescopes. While they were my first hobbyist love and contributed indirectly to my final choice of career, the time of my real interest had long passed by. It also does not help that I live in the suburbs under a semi- permanent light dome coming from Pittsburgh. So no one was more surprised than me to be sitting in my back yard last night under a beautifully clear sky, peering once again into the darkness at the faint fuzzballs. Read On →

Battlefield Academy

Inspired “by a concept devised by the BBC”, Slitherine and Matrix games’ Battlefield Academy should appeal to those of you who have been desperate for a Panzer General fix. In a world where “strategy” has become a videogame codeword for “He who clicks fastest, wins”, Slitherine is still developing turn-based games that are thoughtful, clever, and fun. The presentation of Battlefield Academy is unusual for a wargame. Set in World War II, missions are introduced by a comic-book like splash screen - think of something from a late ‘50’s era Sgt. Read On →

Vampire Saga: Pandora's Box HD

A few years ago there was a sudden proliferation of “find the hidden object” games. They were everywhere. You couldn’t turn around without encountering one. Essentially computerized versions of “Where’s Waldo?”, these games would wrap a thin veneer of story around their central mechanic. A trip to Africa! A locked-room mystery! No genre was safe. Generally speaking, this veneer was tissue thin, and this made most of them unbearable. Occasionally, though, someone can take a tired game and breathe some life into it. Read On →

Dare We Hope?

Has Fujifilm, of all people, finally made me my Digital Hexar? This new FinePix X100 certainly looks the part. Fast fixed lens: check. Fast sensor: check. Claims of fast autofocus: check. Finally, check out the freaky hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder system! Pretty nice. Overnight update: The photo blogosphere was all aglow with the news of this new machine. In particular, over at TOP you could almost feel the drool over the Internet wires. Read On →

Play Like a Pirate 2010

To celebrate “Talk Like a Pirate Day”, Telltale games this week has unveiled their Play Like a Pirate sale. Put simply: all 5 episodes of _Tales of Monkey Island (_previously reviewed by Tea Leaves, here) for a mere $4.95. This is crazy cheap. Whether you’ve got a PC or a Mac, this might be the best $5 you’ll ever spend. Sale ends when the weekend does, so get to it.

Dirty Dozen

A new store in the Dozen chain of cupcake bakeries opened near our office a couple of weeks ago. From my experience with their previous stores I could not think of a single reason to consider trying the new place. But, a few guys in the office have taken a bullet for the team. One of the intrepid explorers, who I will call “Mike” commented that the move to Craig Street seemed to have had a negative effect on the quality of the baked goods. Read On →

Football! Football! Football!

Just a friendly reminder that the best of the four major sports in America starts up tonight. While it’s completely wrong for the NFL to start on a Thursday (boo!), it’s a great thing that we can finally start ignoring all the other sports until February. Bill Simmons has even started doing his “guess the lines” game with his “Cousin” Sal. Life is good.

My Hero

The “my hero for writing something smart online” award for today goes to the noted photographer and printer Ctein, for this gem at the Online Photographer: Most photographers are lousy printers. Most always were. The difference is that in the old days you had to master a substantial skill set in craft before you could demonstrate how lousy you really were. Now anyone can simply buy a technologically superior printer for $500-$1000 and immediately demonstrate their lack of competence. Read On →

Puzzle Bots

Small is beautiful. This is especially true in videogames, where small games carry virtue that larger games don’t. Small games run on just about all hardware, and don’t require the latest overpriced monster videocard with unreliable drivers. Small games can be finished by people who work for a living. Small games have to have fun core mechanics, and thus offer more fun-per-minute. Small games have less filler and busywork. Small games are often less expensive. Read On →

Sherlock for iPhone

I have written many articles about my love, passion, enjoyment, fascination, and overall obsession with the games of Everett Kaser. Everett, who has the worst web site in the world, writes puzzle games. Many of these games are based on boolean algebra, which is enough to make them warm the cockles of any software developer’s heart. A while ago I sent Mr. Kaser mail expressing my wish to see Sherlock, or his other fine puzzle games, on the iPhone or iPad. Read On →

Monday Food Shorts

For a Monday evening, a few short thoughts on food, because I have not bothered you with this in a while. Dinner in 20 minutes redux: Ceviche Buy some of that sushi tuna from the Penn Avenue Fish store. Yes I know it’s not sustainable or whatever. Do it once a year. You need four ounces. Dice the tuna into small cubes. Put in a bowl. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, juice from 1⁄2 a lemon and a dash of soy sauce. Read On →

The Big Lie, Solved

Amateur astronomy has always suffered with one central delusion. It’s always been the case that in order to maintain a healthy enthusiasm for the hobby, you have to be able to lie to yourself under rather difficult circumstances. Let me set the scene. It’s a cold fall night and you are lucky enough to live, or at least visit, somewhere that is relatively free of the worldwide dome of light pollution. Read On →

Arsenal Cider House

I finally visited the Arsenal Cider House, and I’m thrilled that such a quirky new local winemaker is in Pittsburgh. Two thumbs up. I recommend their dryer wines and ciders, but everything is very drinky. I had my phone, so I threw together a quick interview: Saluté!

How to Buy a TV 2

The replacement TV came today. I now feel that I must quickly update a few articles that appeared a few years ago on our humble web site. In this one I surveyed various TV technologies. In this one I gave pithy advice how to to pick a TV. Things are different now. Now all you need to do is (1) pick a size and (2) buy (generally) the cheapest LCD TV that is of that size from a brand you like. Read On →

All Too Soon, Back in the Breach

My HDTV is dead. Actually, it’s more half-dead. Most of the time when you turn it on, it flashes its picture for about a second, and then gives up. Instead of 50 inches of HD splendor, you get a feeble blinking red light. Once in a while it turns on for good, and it works fine for as long as you need it to. Since the TV is out of warrantee it will cost about 25% as much as a new TV just for the guy to show up and start to see what’s wrong with it. Read On →

Mid-Life Crisis

I had an epiphany this weekend that my mid-life crisis is going to be pretty boring. I realized this while I was browsing classified ads for telescopes over at Astromart. What’s that? Why would I be thinking about a mid-life crisis while looking at telescopes? Why was I looking at telescopes at all? Well, that’s a long story. Before I became a computer dork in high school, one of my first dorky loves was astronomy. Read On →

The Haunting of Alan Wake

I just finished paying the horror-action game Alan Wake. Before I complain about the game, let that sink in for a minute: I finished the game. I hardly ever finish games. Games that irritate me usually go on the shelf and never come off. But I finished Alan Wake. So despite what follows, keep in mind that the game was good enough for me to play to completion. Which doesn’t happen that often, lately. Read On →

New drink: Spirited Away

Here’s an original recipe for a great drink. I call it the “Spirited Away.” My goal was to make something akin to a White Russian, but based on a green tea flavor instead of coffee. It’s better than I could have hoped for. First, mix a teaspoon of matcha tea powder with a couple of tablespoons of warm water. Be sure to use the most expensive matcha you can find, so as to really scandalize people who respect and honor tea. Read On →

Field of Glory - Now on Mac OS X

File under “Good news”: Slitherine’s awesome light wargame of ancients combat, Field of Glory, is now available on Mac OS X! I reviewed the game and its first expansion, Rise of Rome earlier this year. This is a nearly perfect port, so all of the kudos and criticisms you’ll find in those earlier reviews still apply. But there are a few updates since my earlier reviews that are worth mentioning. First, the game itself seems to have subsumed the expansions. Read On →

Bike Shopping

I bought a bike last month. It’s the first one I’ve bought in a long time. I bought my current blue road bike about 17 years ago when I moved back to Pittsburgh. What happened that day was that I accidentally bought the perfect bike. Having ridden it for so long, I have come to realize that without even trying, I managed to get a bike that fits perfectly, handles just the way I want, and in general is just “right.” Every once in a while I would try to convince myself to drop money on a new bike, but it would never work out because I’d just take the blue one out and it would be perfect again. Read On →

Cilantro Syrup (and Associated Margarita)

I made syrup out of my cilantro because I hate Patron Citronge. This takes a little explaining, I guess. I don’t really hate Patron Citronge. It seems fine for what it is. But the first, second, and third requirements I have for my orange liqueurs is that they make a good margarita. And, to my taste, Patron Citronge doesn’t do it. I wandered away from my faithful Cointreau just out of an urge to experiment, and, as sometimes happens, it didn’t pan out. Read On →

I Do Fusion 2: The Soup

I’ve always thought that the Chinese and Jewish cultures have some sort of subconscious bond. I’m not sure why I thought this, since truthfully I didn’t grow up around a lot of Jewish people. But there you go. Anyway, this soup is, I think, the natural expression of this bond and it’s something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time ever since Pete gave me the idea. So, I give you: Hot and Sour Matzoh Ball Soup. Read On →

Stream The World Cup

Recently I wrote about streaming movies on demand. I’m interested in this not because I care overmuch whether content is “streamed” or “downloaded.” Rather, what I desire is “deliver the content I want, when I want it, where I want it, with a minimum of effort.” Today I had another encounter with The Future™ that I think is worth mentioning. It happened when I was driving into the city during the early World Cup game today. Read On →

Dear Western Digital

What I want to buy from you is a hard drive. I want to buy hard drive from you because you are good at building drives. I do not want to buy software from you because you suck at building software. Here are some things not to do. 1. Do not waste 500MB on a hidden partition with shitty software on it that I will never run. 2. Do not make this 500MB hidden partition undeleteable. Read On →

Eggnog 2.0

The farm CSA box arrived today, and amongst its bounty was a package of fresh farm eggs. I considered what I might do with really fresh eggs, and decided the best of all possible things I could do was: put booze in them. So I made eggnog. To my shock, although I’ve written about eggnog before, I’ve never written one of my eggnog recipes down. So that, as bbum says, “Google can index my head,” here’s my eggnog recipe. Read On →

We are Dusty Again

Please bear with us. We hit the “upgrade” button on Wordpress. As you know, the upgrade button on Wordpress actually means “break the entire god-damned weblog until we can hand edit all the completely hateful PHP and CSS so that the site almost looks like it did before, but not quite”. If you have been paying attention you’ve noticed that the site has been looking incrementally more ragged over time. This happens every time we hit the upgrade button. Read On →

Il Credo dell'Assassino

Although the other Pete already reviewed the game 6 months ago, I’m just now getting around to playing Assassin’s Creed 2. As usual, he’s already said everything I would plan on saying, and been more eloquent about it. But, I get paid by the word here, so I’m going to opine a little here on some of the things that AC2 gets right, compared to the first game. The Personal Is Political My first observation is that the plot of AC2 is worlds ahead of that in the first game. Read On →

Auto is a Four Letter Word

A recent article in The Online Photographer got me thinking about the role of automation in those machines that take pictures for us. It got me thinking about this even though the piece was supposed to be about [what lenses you should own and carry]() because sometimes Mike rambles. Anyway, here is what I thought: certain people hate automatic cameras because they can be harder to control. But we should ignore those people. Read On →

Stream The World

10 years after canceling my account for the first time, I have resubscribed to Netflix. I canceled my account, all those years ago, not because of any flaw in Netflix’s service, or because it wasn’t worth the money, but because Netflix was making me crazy. I had to watch the movies. I had to watch all the movies, and I had to watch them immediately. Friends would come over: “Hey, want to go out and see Bob?” “Can’t. Read On →

The Wire

People have been telling me to watch The Wire for years. I have resisted because in general I am suspicious of what television enthusiasts tell me. I finally relented because I never heard or read a single negative review of the show. I still had lingering doubts that I would be able to deal with the somewhat grim subject matter, but it only took a few minutes for these doubts to evaporate. Read On →

Steam Power

In case you hadn’t heard, today was a magical day for all of the Mac users of the world who also like to play video games. This is because Valve released an implementation of the Steam platform that runs under MacOS X. Now, I know that I have been hard on Steam in the past. But things change, and my bitter feelings for Steam were a product of its initial implementation. Read On →